Josh Hamilton

ALDS Preview: Rays vs. Rangers

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The Teams

Tampa Bay Rays (91-71) vs. Texas Rangers (96-66)

The Rangers won the season series 5-4, outscoring the Rays by 15 runs (41-26).

The Matchups

Game 1 Friday in Texas: Matt Moore vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 2 Saturday in Texas: James Shields vs. Derek Holland
Game 3 Monday in St. Pete: Colby Lewis vs. David Price
Game 4 (if necessary) Tuesday in St. Pete: Matt Harrison vs. Jeremy Hellickson
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday in Texas: TBD vs. C.J. Wilson

That changes everything. After sending out early indications that Jeff Niemann would start Game 1, the Rays pulled a bit of a stunner Thursday evening by saying Moore, who has just one major league start under his belt, would get the ball.  It’s a gutsy move, but it’s absolutely the right one. He has the better chance of matching up with Wilson than Niemann would. Niemann was 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA against the Rangers this season.

It remains to be seen how much good the Rays’ vaunted pitching depth will do them. Price was struggling a bit even before getting tagged for six runs in four innings by the Yankees on Wednesday. Shields hasn’t been at his best either, though one can imagine him coming back on short rest in Game 5 if he’s effective in Game 2. Hellickson, at least, looks good for Game 4.

Unlike the Rays, the Rangers had plenty of time to set their rotation for the series.  Wilson has a good chance of putting the Rays in an early hole: he had a 1.21 ERA in September and he was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three regular-season starts versus Tampa Bay.

Three questions

Will the Rangers use their best lineup?

Manager Ron Washington seems to know now that he needs Mike Napoli in there everyday, and there’s a good chance the Rangers will carry a third catcher to make it easier to use Napoli as a DH when Yorvit Torrealba is catching. Napoli, who would have finished second in the AL in OPS if he had the plate appearances to qualify, hit .407 with three homers in seven games against Tampa Bay this year.

But what about David Murphy? Murphy came through with a .351/.366/.557 month of September, and he hit .393 with a homer and eight RBI in seven games versus the Rays this year. The Rangers should want him in there against right-handers, though that means putting Josh Hamilton in center field and weakening the outfield defense some.

How will the Rangers handle playing the day games?

Of course, the games in The Trop shouldn’t matter (it’s a dome), but the Rangers hit just .265/.324/.409 in day games this year, compared to .290/.346/.481 under the lights. Josh Hamilton’s much publicized problems with the sun resulted in a .220/.302/.317 line. He hit just one homer in 123 at-bats during day games.

Will the Rays get quality bullpen work from their unused starters?

Kyle Farnsworth was effective in all four of his appearances after missing half of September with a sore elbow, so that’s one bullet dodged. He and Joel Peralta will be lined up to get the six most crucial outs when the Rays are leading late. What will be interesting to see is whether Joe Maddon gives the other key innings to holdovers Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos or if he tries to work in Davis and Niemann in big situations.

Prediction

The Rangers outscored the Rays by 148 runs this year (855-707), they have the hottest starting pitcher in the series lined up to start twice and I think they possess the edge when it comes to bullpens. Of course, part of that run disparity is the ballparks the teams play in — the Texas offense isn’t really that much better than Tampa Bay’s — and the Rays do have the advantage when it comes to defense, but the Rays’ biggest plus — the fact that they have six quality starters to bring into battle — might not do them a whole lot of good in a short series like this. I think this is the Rangers’ series to lose, and if Price doesn’t bounce back in a big way, it may well be a sweep.

RANGERS WIN THE SERIES 3-0.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.

Orioles reconsidering signing Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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In an article for MASN on Friday, Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were reluctant to forfeit their first round draft pick (14th overall) in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club is now reconsidering its stance and rechecking the right-handers medicals, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Gallardo, who turns 30 on February 27, posted a 3.42 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 68 walks over 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season. The Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, sending Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan to Milwaukee.

Gallardo has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his last seven seasons. He remains unsigned into February, however, because his strikeout rate has rapidly decreased with each year since 2012. Per FanGraphs, that rate was 23.7 percent in 2012, then went to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent progressively. Some of that may have to do with diminishing fastball velocity, as Gallardo’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low among his eight full seasons with at least 100 innings pitched.

The Orioles lost starter Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins, and the back end of their rotation is highly speculative with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Tyler Wilson. Adding a veteran like Gallardo, even if he is apparently declining, may be stabilizing.

Freddy Garcia is calling it a career

Screenshot 2016-02-07 at 10.16.43 AM
Elsa/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez passes along word from the Dominican Republic that right-hander Freddy Garcia will hang up his cleats for good after Sunday’s Caribbean Series championship game.

Garcia will start that game for the Tigres de Aragua out of Venezuela. He’s taking on Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlan.

“Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody,” said Tigres de Aragua manager Eddie Perez, who also serves as the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. “Knowing that it’s his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well.”

Garcia’s last major league game was in the 2013 postseason. The 39-year-0ld will finish with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 6.4 K/9 in 2,264 career regular-season innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 11 playoff starts, winning a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005.

Video: 2016 will be a season to remember

Carlos+Correa+Houston+Astros+v+Arizona+Diamondbacks+Ctyu5RiU3SWl
Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com put together this very cool video montage reviewing the 2015 season and setting us up for what should be a wild 2016. Young stars, veterans chasing milestones, unpredictable divisional races.

It’s so close to spring training. Let’s do this.